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Brain activity during orgasm in women revealed

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13 December 2006

UMCG first in the world to measure the role of the brain during female orgasm

Researchers at the University Medical Center, Groningen and the University of Groningen have studied how the female brain functions during orgasm. Using brain scans they showed that there is a decreased flow of blood to the frontal part of the brain, the part that is crucial for executive function. This is the first time that the brain activity of healthy women during orgasm has been studied. The results of this research have been published in the “European Journal of Neuroscience.”

Brain scans show that, during orgasm, there is less blood flow to the left orbitofrontal lobe of the brain than during a state of high sexual excitement without orgasm. “We know that this region is involved in suppressing primary drives and urges,” says neuroscientist Georgiadis. “This is also known in psychopathology. A classic example is Phineas Gage – a 19th-century American railroad worker who got an iron bar through his skull in an accident. He survived the accident, but subsequently became sexually uninhibited.” Conversely, other areas of the brain become extra active. This is true of, for example, the cerebellum, which is probably involved in the muscular contractions that typify orgasm. The researcher also found a connection between the extent of sexual arousal and the blood flow to the midbrain. That is where dopamine-producing cells are situated. This may mean that dopamine plays a part in sexual arousal during orgasm.

PET-scan

The results are based on data obtained from twenty orgasms in twelve women. During the experiment they were injected with radioactive water. This enables the blood flow to the brain – an important indicator of brain activity - to be visualized by a PET-scanner. The test subjects themselves were required to keep their head still during the scan and to reach orgasm within a narrow time limit.
For the purposes of the study, it was important to know if the women had really had an orgasm. Georgiadis and his co-workers were able to obtain an objective measure of female orgasm, based on pelvic muscle activity.

Sexual problems

Although there are no direct clinical applications, researcher Janniko Georgiadis hopes that his study will make a contribution towards solving sexual problems. “Women who cannot have orgasms may experience this as a great loss. Part of the problem is situated in the brain. We know almost nothing about the part the brain plays in sexual behavior. This means that every bit of extra knowledge gained on this subject is beneficial."